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Standing in ERISA Fiduciary Litigation for Plan Administrators

Implications of Thole v. U.S. Bank NA for Plan Participants and Fiduciaries

Recording of a 90-minute premium CLE webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Monday, December 21, 2020

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

This CLE course will provide ERISA counsel and plan fiduciaries a comprehensive understanding of the risks and challenges of a defined benefit plan for sponsors and administrators. The panel will analyze key substantive and procedural issues addressed in recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and outline effective strategies for defending and avoiding fiduciary duty claims.


Fiduciary responsibilities of sponsors and administrators for benefit plans require a duty of prudence under ERISA. Failure to follow best practices for defined benefit plans can result in litigation and millions in legal fees and settlements.

Most cases where retirement plan participants have sued plan sponsors for mismanaging their retirement plan under Section 502(a)(2) of ERISA have involved 401(k) and other defined contribution plans. These claims generally assert that employers acting as plan administrators engage in self-dealing and/or other practices that violate ERISA's fiduciary standards. Claims include imprudently selecting investment options and administrative services or funds that earn high fees for the plan sponsor while performing worse than other competitors.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the plan sponsor in Thole v. U.S. Bank NA, which substantially raised the bar for plaintiffs asserting claims under ERISA against defined benefit plans, and could have ramifications for standing in the 401(k) and defined contribution plan context as well. In a split decision, the Supreme Court held that participants in a defined benefits plan who continue to receive their monthly benefits have no standing to sue their plan under ERISA. The court opened the door for participant claims where plan mismanagement substantially increases the risk of the defined benefit plan failing.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, ERISA counsel and fiduciaries should ensure that plan documents, investment selection, fee arrangements, and administrative processes minimize breach of fiduciary duty claims for defined benefit plans.

Listen as our panel provides an in-depth analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and its implications to plan participants, fiduciaries, and administrators. The panel will also discuss the necessary methods of selecting plan investments and monitoring fee structures, as well as offer best practices for defending and avoiding breach of fiduciary duty claims.



  1. Fiduciary liability for defined benefit plans
  2. Participant claims and recent SCOTUS decision
  3. Key Issues for defined contribution plans
  4. Best practices for fiduciaries and plan administrators


The panel will discuss these and other critical issues:

  • Understanding the fiduciary responsibilities of defined benefit plan administration under ERISA
  • The extent of fiduciary duty liability under ERISA after recent cases
  • How to identify those issues that could result in fiduciary litigation
  • The impact of SCOTUS decision on defined contribution plans
  • Best practices in avoiding and handling litigation premised on breach of fiduciary duty claims


Dolph, Ada
Ada W. Dolph

Seyfarth Shaw

With 17 years of experience as a labor and employment litigator with Seyfarth Shaw, Ms. Dolph is an advisor to clients...  |  Read More

Kang, Clarissa
Clarissa A. Kang

Trucker Huss

Ms. Kang has handled a broad spectrum of litigation, including cases involving benefit claims, fiduciary issues, plan...  |  Read More

Netter, Brian
Brian D. Netter

Mayer Brown

Mr. Netter is a member of the firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice and is Co-Leader of the Supreme...  |  Read More

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